Bhutan # 6 Wandering in North Punakha Valley

Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten, which we visited in Bhutan musings #5,  dominates the upper Punakha Valley and commands views south along the Mo Chhu and north towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.


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P1000409 © DY of jtdytravels

The view down the winding Mo Chhu towards our hotel and Punakha village was truly stunning.  The road snakes its way at the foot of the hills on the other side of the river.  Rice farms use every possible piece of land between river and hills. Conservation of the forests is high on the Bhutanese Government’s agenda. But it’s a balancing act with a growing population meaning more people to feed and so more land needing to to be cleared for farms.  It’s a problem in most countries worldwide.


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P1000409 © DY of jtdytravels

The view north, upriver towards Gasa and the higher mountains of the Tibetan border is equally pleasing. When I was here in 2003, we walked down from those mountains to this river before a small bus picked us up for the final bit of road into Punakha.  Looking at this view brought memories of that trek flooding back to me.


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P1000412 © DY of jtdytravels

As we began to wend our way back down the slope, we looked down on an amazingly intricate patchwork of rice terraces.


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P1000413 © DY of jtdytravels

These terraces seemed to just tumble down the mountainside.  Some harvested, some are ripe for harvest, and others , on the upper slopes, still green.  Careful planning is obviously needed to balance the work load and the harvest timing. Both white and red rice are grown in this valley.


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P1000389 © DY of jtdytravels

 This time, as we walked down the path, we were able to look down onto the terraces below us.  The family we had seen earlier were still hard at work threshing their rice. While we wandered, they worked.  Thought provoking!


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P1000390 © DY of jtdytravels

Toddlers at play whilst their parents work.  No creche here.


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P1000424 © DY of jtdytravels

Hibiscus trionum, a weed in these crops, shows just how temperate the climate is here.


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P1000425 © DY of jtdytravels

There must be very few countries in the world where the ubiquitous but rather beautiful Morning Glory doesn’t grow.


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P1000431 © DY of jtdytravels

A well camouflaged dragonfly with delicate gauzy wings.


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P1000434 © DY of jtdytravels

Just the very top of Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Temple showed on top of the ridge as we made our way back down through the rice fields.


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P1000442 © DY of jtdytravels

Looking the other way, the view was one of rugged mountain peaks.  Clouds began to roll in. Was this to be the end of our good weather?  Hopefully not. We still had so much to enjoy in this valley.


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P1000436 © DY of jtdytravels

It pays to look down as well as up, even when surrounded by magnificent mountains.

Back down near a fast flowing small stream, I found this insect, maybe a water nymph…

his shadow, a perfect replica in the mid-day sunshine.


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P1000446 © DY of jtdytravels

Nearby was a rather attractive butterfly.


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P1000447 © DY of jtdytravels

A quiet eddy by the side of the river.


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P1000449 © DY of jtdytravels

After a pleasant wander, we were back to that flag bedecked bridge across the Mo Chhu.

‘Twas time to return to our delightful hotel for lunch –

 and it was a well earned lunch!

More anon.


All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

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Bhutan : # 5 Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten

Our stay at the Uma by Como Hotel was not all about relaxing and enjoying that view, stunning though it was.  We also took several short trips out into the countryside to enjoy other sites, and sights, in this most beautiful of valleys.


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P1250313 © DY of jtdytravels

On the map, our hotel is marked with an x, just above the word Punakha.  Our first foray into the countryside took us further north up the Mo Chhu to the tiny settlement of Yambesa (near Sirigang) to visit the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten.  Another wander along windy back roads took the group (minus me, because I had a tummy upset!), south to Talo and other villages near the Samgnacholing Dzong.  The next day we ventured further south, close to the junction of the road back to Thimphu, where we visited the Chimi Lhakhang Black Dog Chorten before coming back to Punakha to, at last, visit the famous Punakha Dzong.


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P1000416 © DY of jtdytravels

With all those names that sound so strange to an English speaker, it’s no wonder at all, is it, that we needed a Bhutanese guide!  And that guide was Leki, a very handsome and personable young man – and an excellent guide.  So now, let’s take our time and spend a few musing episodes wandering with Leki in this stunningly beautiful Bhutanese valley.


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P1000372 © DY of jtdytravels

To be begin our wanderings in the Punakha Valley we travelled north up alongside the west side of the Mo Chu. Our destination for the morning was the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten which, we discovered, was on the other side of the river and perched high on a ridge.  For anyone wanting to get to this special chorten, the river must first be crossed via a colourful, prayer flag festooned footbridge. After that, it’s a rather long uphill hike.  Bhutan is a place for walking and most of that walking is initially in an uphill direction… of course, coming back down is not such a huff and puff affair.


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P1000377 © DY of jtdytravels

For most of the group, this was their first chance to experience a Bhutanese footbridge.

With the river swirling below and the prayer flags flapping near your face…

this can be a somewhat disconcerting walk.


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P1000378 © DY of jtdytravels

On the way up, we passed a small private Chorten standing alone in a field.

Buddhists  believe that building a Chorten is considered extremely beneficial, giving to those who build it very positive and accumulating merits during one’s life.  On the other hand, they also believe that destroying or vandalising a stupa is considered an extremely negative deed. Such an action would likely create massive negative karmic imprints leading to future problems during the person’s present stay on earth and even after death.   There are stupas of every size in Bhutan; some are very grand, but even simple ones like this, seem to add a sense of permanence and place and peace.


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P1000382 © DY of jtdytravels

A young Bhutanese boy watched our progress.


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P1000386 © DY of jtdytravels

As did an old man.


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P1000384 © DY of jtdytravels

Our path took us up along a ridge through rice fields.  Here, we watched a farming family at work threshing the rice. Everything is done by manual labour; it’s all hard work.


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P1000385 © DY of jtdytravels

I spotted this twisted tree trunk on a small side path – time to duck the head.


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P1000393 © DY of jtdytravels

An unknown herb beside the path.


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P1000394 © DY of jtdytravels

At last a sign to let us know we were indeed on the right path.


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P1000399 © DY of jtdytravels

Colourful prayer flags and a buddha statue stands opposite the main door into the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten.


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P1000403 © DY of jtdytravels

There were large, highly decorated prayer wheels in a small pavilion in the grounds.

You always walk clockwise around a prayer wheel.

Individual Chortens stand on a ridge behind.


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P1000400 © DY of jtdytravels

Fascinating shadows on a line of small chortens.


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P1000405 © DY of jtdytravels

This gentle old man was very welcoming.


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P1000406 © DY of jtdytravels

He was happy to smile for this portrait even though we interrupted his meditations.


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P1000418 © DY of jtdytravels

Many strange beings adorn the buildings.


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P1000423 © DY of jtdytravels

Finally we arrived at the very impressive, four storey high Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten.  It was built by Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, the third of the four sisters who were simultaneously wives of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.  A splendid example of Bhutanese architecture and decorative art, this Chorten took almost nine years to complete and is the only one of its kind in the world.  Although most Bhutanese buildings are constructed without formal plans, what makes this building unusual is that not even engineering manuals were consulted for the building of this temple.  Instead, the Bhutanese craftsmen involved in the building, including carpenters, painters, and sculptors, consulted religious scriptures for all the detail.


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P1000419 © DY of jtdytravels

The Queen is said to have built this temple in the hope of removing negative forces and to promote peace, stability and harmony in a changing world.  The temple was consecrated in a three day ceremony in 1999 and was dedicated for ‘the well being of the kingdom, its people and all sentient beings’.  It is a stunning building and well worth the climb.


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P1000414 © DY of jtdytravels

And the views from the grounds of the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten are also stunning.  We’ll look at those in more detail in the next episode when we’ll retrace our steps down the hill, taking in the views at a leisurely pace, back to the bridge.


All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

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